The capture of the foreign-born Boston Marathon bombing suspects is already beginning to factor into the ongoing debate over immigration on Capitol Hill and will loom large as the Senate Judiciary Committee resumes debate over their bipartisan immigration reform bill on Monday.
Nearly two dozen witnesses are slated to address the panel, but the ongoing fallout over how the suspects got into the country could well overshadow the regularly slated witnesses, who range from the United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez and American for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
Already, during a Friday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legislation, just as the manhunt for the bombing suspects hit a crescendo, skeptical lawmakers were already beginning to use the suspects’ path into the country as reasons to put the breaks on reform.
“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in his opening statement. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”
The suspected bombers, brothers Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnev, were born to a Chechen family in Kyrgyzstan but had settled in the United States with their parents by 2003. The younger Dzhokar Tsarnaev became a naturalized American citizen in 2012 while Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a legal permanent resident.
The bipartisan bill, sponsored by four Republicans and four Democrats, would implement a 13-year pathway toward citizenship, but would also increase security along the southern border.
With Republicans losing ground with Hispanic voters in 2012, immigration reform had already become a critical issue for the GOP, but one that was already creating a fissure in the caucus between those open to a pathway to citizenship and more hardline members.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tried to preempt any pushback on Friday, issuing a joint statement that Boston shouldn’t deter reform efforts already underway in the Senate.
“In the wake of this week’s terrorist attack in Boston, some have already suggested that the circumstances of this terrible tragedy are justification for delaying or stopping entirely the effort for comprehensive immigration reform,” said the two Republican senators. “In fact the opposite is true: Immigration reform will strengthen our nation’s security by helping us identify exactly who has entered our country and who has left–a basic function of government that our broken immigration system is incapable of accomplishing today. The status quo is unacceptable.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another sponsor of the bill, also pushed back on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, saying inaction on immigration would be the worse course of action.
“The worst thing we can do is nothing,” said Durbin. “If we do nothing, leaving 11 million people in the shadows, not making our border safer, not having the information that comes from employment and these visa holders, we will be less safe in America,”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also echoed his colleague’s sentiments on CNN’s State of the Union.
“If they have a reason, a suggestion as to how to change it based on what happened in Boston, we’ll certainly be open to it,” said Schumer. “But we’re not going to let them use what happened in Boston as an excuse, because our law toughens things up.”